Content: In the last entry I briefly introduced an article entitled “Shades of criticality in health and wellbeing education” (Primdahl et al. 2018). I signaled there that I needed to explain why I have separated the terms “shades” and “criticality” in my entry titles.

First, in the Primdahl et al. article, I enjoyed the evocative metaphor of “shades”, implying grey as opposed to black/white in thinking about critical research and writing – though perhaps with some unfortunate popular culture allusions!  Moreover, I assumed that I knew what was intended by the term “criticality” – a reference to one’s respective ability to be “critical”. However, I soon found that the term has another meaning – that developed in Irit Rogoff (2003) and taken up by Sasha Roseneil (2011). Note that Rogoff (2006) acknowledges that “criticality” is “a contingent and not entirely satisfactory term, not least because it is already occupied with various meanings I am not much interested in.”

Looking to locate some history of the concept, I found that Primdahl et al. (2018) took the term “criticality” from Biesta and Stams (2001), who adopted it from Burbules (1999).  A discussion paper on “criticality” by Yamada (2009) links the concept to Barnett (1997), who “claimed the importance of establishing educational aims in higher education, developing ‘criticality’ for fostering critical citizens with independent thought and action” (Yamada 2009: 11). This reference fits my assumed understanding of “criticality” as one’s ability to be “critical”. Yamada also reports on a “Criticality Project” at the University of Southampton in the UK.

Alongside and perhaps against this heritage, Rogoff (2003, 2006) has articulated a new understanding of “criticality”, as the next step, if you will, beyond criticism and critique. I cannot do justice to Rogoff’s arguments in this brief entry but encourage readers to explore both her propositions and those of her interlocutors (Vishmidt 2008). To put Rogoff’s argument simply, she (Pan 2015; emphasis added) states in an interview that:

You have to produce language that is both analytical and experiential; that is criticality. You are implicated, you are inside, you are part of it, and you can’t step aside and look at it from the perspective of critique.

Some of this may sound familiar given our exploration in previous entries of reflexivity and self-problematization (entries on 21 Oct. and 5 Nov.). However, a new (or rather old) term has been inserted, “experience”, which certainly cannot be assumed to have an obvious meaning (see Scott 1991; Lemke 2011).

Roseneil (2011: 126) proceeds to explore this “register of criticality” which, “while building on critique wants nevertheless to inhabit culture in a relation other than one of critical analysis; other than one of illuminating flaws, locating elisions, allocating blames (Rogoff 2003)”. Roseneil sees connections between Rogoff’s “desire to work in a more generative terrain that moves beyond negative critique” and Eve Sedgwick’s (2003) critique of “paranoid reading”: “In contrast to the paranoid practices of cultural critique, Sedgwick argues for what she calls, drawing on the work of Melanie Klein, reparative practices of knowing”: “What’s missing are readings that mediate between what’s wrong with the world and what can be and already is counter-normative and just plain ok” (Lynne Layton, personal communication in Roseneil 2011: 129). According to Roseneil (2011: 130):

In this context, what is needed, I would suggest, is less focus on the hegemonies of heterosexuality and recuperations for the heteronormative order, and more on the discontinuities, challenges, and transformations in the sexual order, and how they are lived psychosocially, ambivalently, in complex ways that are chosen and not chosen, consciously, reflexively constructed, and driven by powerful emotions and affective intersubjective dynamics of which people are often not aware.

The reference to “emotions” and “affective intersubjective dynamics” signals links to the “turn to affect” in social theory, a topic for another day. Roseneil (2011: 127) concludes:

whilst there can be no return to criticism in this post-post-structuralist era, I propose that the spirit of critical theory’s future-orientated, “practical” social research might be harnessed in conjunction with criticality’s emphasis on the potentiality of the present, in all the complexities of our implication in its creation and re-creation, to offer a productive way of approaching feminist social research.

The focus in this perspective on “the complex ways in which people live their lives or narrate themselves” (Roseneil 2011: 130) indicates a possible link to ethnographic methodologies, a topic I pursue in a subsequent entry.

In this entry I signal a point I have made on several occasions, that no concept is “safe” (Research Hub entry on Herbert Simon, 4 April 2018), that concepts have no fixed meanings but rather are proposals about how we proceed from here (Tanesini 1994: 207). As proposals, I suggest that one way to deal with this complicated terrain and with these contested meanings of “criticality” is to subject specific meanings to a WPR analysis (see Bacchi 2018: 7). I have yet to apply this suggested way forward but I hope I have signaled some of the paths that need following, including references to “affect” and “experience”. In the spirit of my last entry the objective of such analysis is to encourage conversations across theoretical perspectives, though I would suggest that the refrain of “post-post-structuralism” might be dangerously anticipatory.

Rogoff also has things to say about “problems”, a theme I couldn’t resist. I’ll offer some thoughts on this topic next time.


Bacchi, C. 2018. Drug Problematizations and Politics: Deploying a Poststructural Analytic Strategy. Contemporary Drug Problems  45(1): 2-14.

Barnett, R. 1997. Higher education: A critical business.Buckingham: Open University Press.

Biesta, G. J. J., & Stams, G. J. J. M. 2001. Critical thinking and the question of critique: Some lessons from deconstruction. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 20(1), 57–74.

Burbules, N.C. 1999. Modes of Criticality as Modes of Teaching. In S. Tozer (ed.), Philosophy of Education 1998, Philosophy of Education Society, Urbana-Champaign, pp. 485–489.

Lemke, T. 2011. Critique and Experience in Foucault. Theory, Culture & Society  28(4): 26-48.

Pan, S. F. 2015. A Conversation with Irit Rogoff: Where do we sit within all of this? A*Desk Critical Thinking, Magazine 15 November,

Primdahl, N. L., Reid, A. & Simovska, V. 2018. Shades of criticality in health and wellbeing education, Journal of Curriculum Studies,DOI: 10.1080/00220272.2018.1513568

Rogoff, I. 2003. From Criticism to Critique to Criticality. Available at: Accessed 2 December 2018.

Rogoff, I. 2006. “Smuggling” – An Embodied Criticality,

Roseneil, S. 2011. Criticality, Not Paranoia: A Generative Register for Feminist Social Research. NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research  19(2): 124-131.

Scott, J. W. 1991. The Evidence of Experience. Critical Inquiry  17(4): 773-797.

Sedgwick, E. K. 2003.  Paraniod Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Eassy Is About You, in Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham & London: Duke University Press).

Tanesini, A. 1994. Whose language? In K. Lennon & M. Whitford (Eds), Knowing the difference: Feminist perspectives in epistemology. NY: Routledge.

Vishmidt, M. 2008. The cultural logic of criticality. Journal of Visual Arts Practice  7(3): 253-269.

Yamada, E. 2009. Discussion on the concept of “Criticality”. Literacies WEB Journal  6(1).